BINWE ADEBAYO, A WRITER, CONTENT STRATEGIST AND RECENT MASTER’S DEGREE GRADUATE HAS BEEN PROUD AND OUTSPOKEN ABOUT HER IDENTITY. HERE, SHE TAKES US THROUGH HER HAIR JOURNEY WHICH SAW HER EXPERIENCING FIRST-HAND, THE COMPLEXITIES OF BEING A CONSCIOUS, YOUNG AFRICAN WOMAN WITH RELAXED HAIR IN THE FACE OF AN EVER-CHANGING CULTURE FIXATED ON AESTHETIC BEAUTY AND ACCEPTABILITY POLITICS.
Ever since I can remember, the women in my family have loved, cared for and curated their crowns in their own way. Heavily influenced by my maternal grandmother, we have experimented through the years – moving from long ropes of natural hair, twists crafted expertly by the Maasai men in Nairobiâ€™s bustling hair markets, and at other times, opted for straight and sleek locks. For me, the choice to relax my hair has always been my own. Shying away from the dreaded hot comb, or wiggling away from the hours spent braiding, at the age of ten, I was mesmerized by the girl on the box of Dark and Lovely Beautiful Beginnings, and snuck her (and my future look) into my motherâ€™s trolley.
In the early years, my mum, being a hands-on helicopter type, did the job at home. She would gift me a new book to read from her incredible collection, and I would munch on Cheese Curls as she gently parted the hair, explained what the products were for, and transformed me into the glowing brown girl on the box – a girl who looked a little like me. As I grew older, I was inducted into the family tradition of hair play, and I have tried almost every style you can imagine; including an unfortunate (but 2016-appropriate) undercut which revealed a most unflattering head shape. To me, relaxing my hair was just another weapon in my arsenal when I wanted to refresh my look, communicate my style, or simply save myself some time in the mornings.
However, as the tide turned, we listened to Solange, and black women started to debate, relaxer (and all its proponents) were declared persona non grata. Those of us who chose to continue using relaxer were branded Western-obsessed, black-denying traitors to the cause of the New Blackness. And while it is certainly true that we must interrogate the politics of our choices – aesthetic and otherwise, the anti-straight mob felt as cloistered and exclusive as the whites-only club they seemed to be resisting. The natural hair movement has espoused some beautiful interactions, bashed myths about black hair and equipped women with a lot of information. But for women like me, dark skinned, with hair made to flourish in the balmy weather of Kenya and Nigeria, the light-skinned Lion Babe â€˜curlsâ€™ aesthetic of the natural hair movement did not consider me in the slightest – it was almost as if this movement dragged a whole lot of our other intersectional issues around colourism with it. One of the people to address this powerfully was my dear friend and Twitter fave Lineo Mabulu (@felacoochie), whose #4cforDineo threads broke stereotypes about the bouncy carefree life of the natural hair adoptees.
And so, in line with my other politics which reject a one or the other approach, or which drag other ugly asymmetries of power into â€˜progressiveâ€™ movements, I have continued to treat my hair in the way which serves me best. Most likely to be found in a Matrix like black ensemble, the dead straight aesthetic of my anime heroes speaks to where I am right now – quiet, searching and desperately minimalist. I pair a rigorous protein and moisture routine with a penchant for silk pillowcases to protect my hair – and my hairdresser of 15 years, Aunt Happiness adds a healthy dose of Kiswahili gossip and health advice with my trips to have my hair relaxed, using the same brand Iâ€™ve always trusted. And while Iâ€™ve outgrown my affinity with â€˜the girl on the boxâ€™, she is still a symbol for me of a bright, joyful black girl with a crown to call her own.